House Republicans just nuked Trump's demand for $2,000 direct COVID relief payments

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The mitosis and meiosis of political alliances are a dizzying dance of shifting interests and legislative triangulation even in the best of times, which these certainly are not. Instead, with the coronavirus pandemic raging, and a commander in chief who had become so erratic and detached from reality that even some of his most ardent aides are starting to freak out, we've reached a point where congressional Democrats and Donald Trump are seemingly in rare alignment. House Republicans — normally in total lockstep with the president — are suddenly the ones standing in the way of this unusual political union.

On Thursday morning, just two days after Trump detonated a carefully negotiated COVID relief bill that would have given $600 to every American adult by demanding that sum be upped to at least $2,000, House Republicans shot down the Democrats' effort to do just that, leaving the status of any sort of relief bill in political limbo.

"Today, on Christmas Eve morning, House Republicans cruelly deprived the American people of the $2,000 that the President agreed to support," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after Republicans blocked the Democrats' call for unanimous consent to up the direct payment amount to Trump's preferred total.

"If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction," Pelosi continued, noting that she would call for another vote on Monday to increase the direct payment amount.

This sets up a bizarre showdown in which Trump's implied — but not explicit — threat to veto the COVID relief bill his own White House helped negotiate and attached omnibus spending bill could result in a partial government shutdown starting December 29. If that happens, even the paltry $600 direct payments it's taken the better part of a year to secure for most Americans would be further delayed.

"It took us a long time to get to where we are. I think reopening that bill would be a mistake," Republican Senator Roy Blunt said after his House counterparts blocked the Democrats' increase efforts. "The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill, and I still hope that's what he decides."

Blunt also cautioned that even if the House could miraculously come together to pass an increased direct relief payment, the bill would likely be dead on arrival in the GOP controlled Senate.